The Saudi dichotomy: opportunity or risk?

When you talk to anyone about the MENA healthcare market, it’s very hard to steer the conversation away from Saudi Arabia. It’s awash with potential – but is the Khashoggi case having the cooling effect some in the region feared?

Consider first the opportunities. With a population of 33 million people, the largest economy in the region, and Vision 2030, the scope for private businesses is significant. Certain sectors are, markedly, now opening up to direct foreign and ownership.

There is also significant positive change, and this is creating new markets. An increase in the number of women, previously the backbone of family carers, now working, is creating new homecare and elderly care markets. Added to the decoupling of homecare licences from hospitals, this is creating vast new opportunities in what were hitherto non-existent markets.

What a shame, then, that it is impossible to ignore the possible fallout following the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. But is this really having an effect?

As far as operators in the country are concerned, at least outwardly, it is business as usual. But digging deeper, we hear international operators and investors – who have never been so courted – are indeed holding back waiting to see how things develop.

If MENA investors are put off Saudi, then where will they look? Perhaps east, to UAE. There too, there appears to be the political will to change and embrace private operators – without the underlying threat of international political excommunication.

The introduction of DRG payments to Dubai hospitals next year could make it one to watch and could be significant enough to divert the gaze of savvy and previously Saudi-focussed funds looking to make MENA money.

We would welcome your thoughts on this story. Email your views to David Farbrother or call 0207 183 3779.